Word on the Ground: Facing climate extremes - we must act now to protect the Fens, writes Stafford Proctor
Climate is changing. Extreme rainfall occurred in 2007, 2012 and now in 2019.
We had tidal surges in 1953, 1978 and 2013, and extreme weather events will occur in the future. We need to be better prepared for them.
Wet weather in mid-June inundated the low-lying Fens with up to 175mm of rainfall (three months’ equivalent). This fell in three days. Regionally damage included flattened crops of wheat and barley, and waterlogging and crop loss in fields of peas and potatoes. Yields and incomes will be reduced.
But Wainfleet, south of Skegness, was severely impacted. The River Steeping’s Relief Channel, carrying water from the Wolds and Spilsby to the Wash, overtopped and then breached its banks.
This led to extensive flooding across 1,000 acres of farmland. The emergency services evacuated 1,500 people from 580 properties which had either been flooded or were in immediate danger.
This is a tragedy for householders and businesses. They have lost many of their possessions and crops, with much uninsured. They must now repair damage to properties and farms and begin to rebuild confidence and lives.
The Wainfleet flooding is a clear warning that our current infrastructure and flood protection policies are not ‘fit for purpose’ for the future of the Fens.
We must all recognise that the primary role of drainage infrastructure is to transport water. In addition the infrastructure can be a haven for wildlife, but not at the expense of its primary role. Our approach to the management of badgers, rabbits and ground nesting birds must change.
The two core principles of reliable flood protection are good local maintenance and continuous improvements to infrastructure.
All participants – the Environment Agency, the Internal Drainage Boards, the district and county Councils, and the farmers – must embrace these two core principles and co-operate to implement them.
Some 500,000 people and their homes and businesses, roads and rail, power generation and infrastructure depend on the success of this collaboration.
The Fens is the engine room of British agriculture and horticulture and it must have flood protection that is appropriate for its future.